Monday, 5 July 2021

A New Sayers Biography

Some time ago, I was asked for permission to allow a quote from me (an extract from the intro to Ask a Policeman) to be included in a new book about Dorothy L. Sayers. We reached agreement and I've now had a chance to look at the book, which is written by Colin Duriez and published by Lion Hudson. The title is: Dorothy L. Sayers: Death, Dante, and Lord Peter Wimsey. 

The author is an expert on C.S. Lewis, and is especially interested in Sayers' relationship with Christianity. Her faith was extremely important to her and Duriez writes sympathetically about her moral dilemmas and struggles, especially in connection with the birth of her son, a secret she kept hidden from the world to the end of her life.

In the overall scheme of the book, Sayers' detective fiction doesn't play a large part and it's clear that it's of even less interest to Duriez than it was to Sayers' principal biographer, Barbara Reynolds, whose magisterial book about DLS remains the key text on her life. So, for instance, The Documents in the Case (to the genesis of which Reynolds devoted a whole chapter,  a part of her book I found especially fascinating) does not even get a mention. There's no mention at all of Taking Detective Stories Seriously, in which I gathered her wonderful crime reviews for the Sunday Times.

I can understand this focus, since of course Sayers herself stopped writing detective novels while still in her forties and preferred to concentrate on theological writing and translating Dante, although she remained devoted to the Detection Club to the time of her death. For my part, I'm primarily interested in her influential contribution to crime writing, both as a novelist and a commentator. This book doesn't cast any fresh light on those areas of her work, it has to be said, but it serves perfectly well as a concise and very readable introduction to the life of a remarkable woman.  



Marty said...

I can see why a CS Lewis scholar would want to concentrate on the religious side of Sayers, but maybe then Lord Peter should have been left out of the title! It does lead you to expect more about her detective fiction. And Sayers did include moral struggles for Wimsey in the books. She even has him tell someone that detective novels are the most moral kind of literature. It would have been interesting to see some kind of parallel between Sayers' own soul-searching and Wimsey's.

Fiona said...

As a long standing fan (since my teens) of DLS that sounds rather disappointing, though clearly it is intended to be a biography and not literary criticism. Is there such a book which covers all her writing? I remember reading two, possibly three, collections of her essays, including Op 1 and Unpopular Opinions which I greatly enjoyed, and have her Letters, Dante and The Man Born to be King

Michael Lydon said...

A biography of Dorothy L Sayers which does not give large consideration to her detective stories does seem like “Hamlet” without the Prince. Several of her novels and stories embody ideas that were important to her. You mention “The Documents in the Case” but there is also “Gaudy Night”, of which Sayers wrote that it “had a plot that should exhibit intellectual integrity as the one great permanent value in an emotionally unstable world…” and in the novel she had said “the things that, in a confused way, I had been wanting to say all my life.”

Still, her detective story work can cause her other achievements to be overlooked, so perhaps this book will help do justice to her career as a whole.

Martin Edwards said...

Interesting comments from each of you - much appreciated. Fiona, there isn't any book which (in my opinion) comes close to being definitive in its coverage of all her writing from a lit crit viewpoint. Perhaps it's because her range was so wide. I'm not even sure I'd say there is a truly comprehensive single book focusing on all her work, fact and fiction, in the crime field. A gap in the market?